Salomon Sunset Series: Box Hill

I was a seasoned runner once. I trained nearly every day at varying distances and speeds and recorded my splits and times and wasn’t happy if I didn’t achieve what I wanted. Entering the Salomon Sunset Series 10k race at Box Hill was a welcome antidote to the notions of failure I have had around my running prowess.

I signed up for this evening trail run on a whim when Bex over at Love Her Wild posted a message about it. The race seemed perfect for me. While I find road running so much easier, trail running is more challenging, more fun, and more about the experience than smashing PBs.

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Intentions of a few training runs a week went out of the window due huge focus on training for a little adventure where I’ll be climbing 43 peaks in 5 days (plenty more to come on that). I’ve been blasting the gym, but with a huge focus on strength, and doing some walking as well. Runs have been few and far between, so I was by no means ready for the run yesterday.

But do you know what? It really didn’t matter. I had a fantastic time and would do it again, no questions asked.

Box Hill is one of my favourite little getaways from London, as it is pretty, rural, but so easily accessible by train from the city.

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There was a bustling race village with friendly volunteers, a bag drop, a Salomon shop where I perved over the trail shoes, food and drink trucks, and a stall from sponsors Clif who were handing out protein bar samples (which are vegan friendly so all good in my book).

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The race was on a (very) undulating course around Box Hill, as the sun was setting. Anyone who follows my blog knows I moan every time there is a hill in my life, but for me this is all the more reason to tackle them. At the start of the run, there were a few bottlenecks of colourful, lycra-clad athletes, eager to push on, but blighted by narrow paths and gates.

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For me of course, the bottlenecks were the perfect excuse to have a little rest, snap some photos and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the natural world.

As the crowds dispersed, I was feeling pretty awesome, pounding away, through hills, woods, and along streams. Each kilometre was marked, and it was around the 4km mark that I started losing by breath a bit, pulling behind the crowds, looking over my shoulder to see if I was last.

As my breathing quickened and my muscles started to twinge, I decided to power walk on the uphills, then charge full pelt on the down hills to make up some speed. But I just took it really slowly, chatted to some of the other runners, took some pictures and plodded on.

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There was a water station at around 5km, which was welcomed with open arms. Lots of runners were having a little rest there, enjoying their rehydration, while waiting for friends. The water station was at the bottom of a rather intimidating hill climb.

At this point, I wasn’t even power walking, but rather dragging myself up this hill. There were lots of steps and I couldn’t decide whether it was more exhausting to stick with the stairs or use the hilly path to the side. I was very slow, and started to wonder how I was going to survive in the Lake District with 8,848m of ascent.

From the crest of the hill, the path levelled out and there was a nice flat stretch where I picked up the pace and strode along feeling strong. There was some gentle rain which was quite refreshing, and the support of the marshals, teamed with the little glimpses of the setting sun, kept me really positive.

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Around 8km, there was a fantastic downhill stretch on a gravelly trail path, and I was careering along at a great speed. The rain was picking up, and the sun really starting to disappear, and I was feeling like an absolute machine as I charged past the runners who had been overtaking me for the last hour or so.

I was just thinking about how competent I was at going down a hill, when suddenly I tripped and landed with a thud, my entire body face down. My race number had come off, I felt in shock and in pain, and as I surveyed myself I saw 2 bloody knees, holes in my running tights and a scraped elbow.

Two kind women stopped running and came over, telling me not to look at the blood and making sure I was okay. One of them gave me a sip of water and they encouraged me to walk for a bit before seeing if I could power on.

This is where I feel like I need to give a shout out to Salomon for organising an event where there are no winners, no prizes, and a sense of camaraderie throughout. Those women put helping me before their own finish times, and I was so grateful.

The epic fall happened right before a hill that stretched for a good part of the next kilometre, so I did a bit of a walk/run while I recovered from the shock.

As the last kilometre approached, I took up a run again and gave it everything I had, my knee throbbing, the darkness really setting in and the rain starting to pick up. This is where I have to hugely thank the marshals for keeping me going, and then Bex for being at the finish line with her husband Gil (both of whom had finished ages ago), cheering and getting me to up my speed as I crossed the line. It certainly wasn’t what I would call a sprint finish, but it felt good.

The clock read 1 hour 26 mins when I crossed the line. I hadn’t had a finish time in mind, not having done much training, but I was just elated to have got around, especially after my fall. My 10km PB is circa 50 minutes, and I probably currently would run at around an hour, but when you throw hills into the mix it’s like a totally different sport.

It was a perfectly imperfect run. I was slow, I was exhausted, I was bleeding, but I bloody loved it.

There were moments when I was thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’ and ‘Never again!’ but that sense of achievement and fulfilment at the end made it all worthwhile.

Races are usually in the morning, but doing it at sunset was a really nice touch. I mean, when you can’t breath, and your heart is racing, a colourful, warm sky is just what you need to keep you going.

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Having been plagued with an Achilles injury which has meant I really haven’t run much since I hobbled around the London Marathon course in 2014, I wasn’t sure if I would ever get back into running. I know I need to take it slow, rest when I need to, not overdo it, and most probably get some physio. But after the injury, and what felt like a huge failure, I didn’t think I would love running again. I have felt very negative about it.

I think trail running is my solution. I do it for the nature, for the challenge, for the experience, rather than for a PB. I can walk as much as I need to without feeling bad.

That said I have a bit of a dream to do some pretty out there runs in 2018 that are more city based. There is a half marathon someone is recruiting team mates for in North Korea, which has caught my eye. And if my Achilles can hold up enough to get me around another marathon, I am looking at the Erbil marathon in Iraqi Kurdistan.

But then there are a whole host of other adventures to think about.

I think the best thing about doing the Salomon Sunset Series 10k on Box Hill was riding the train back into London at 11pm with all of the people pre-drinking on their way to a rave, or recalling the details of their boozy Saturday night. Maybe it’s smug, but I felt really good for having gotten out of that world, and to have spent my Saturday night in nature, releasing endorphins in a wholly natural way.

The world of adventure, travel and the outdoors well and truly saved me. (But not my knees!)

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